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About the Story
Youíve got one job: get the baby to daycare. How hard could it be?
Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Current Version: Unknown
Development System: Perplexity
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Games made with the Perplexity engine are hugely unique experiences because of the idiosyncratic way in which the parser and world model work. For reasons I can sort of fathom, this engine eschews conventional parser input practices in favor of a system that aspires to be able to parse truly natural language, but has a long way to go. For reasons I can totally fathom, it also generally eschews bespoke descriptions in favor of automatically-generated ones, which could one day become a golden feature, but also has a long way to go.
Here are some of the amazing interactions I had with this game. I believe they speak for themselves.
(Spoiler - click to show)>who am i
>what am i
>where am i
inside a sidewalk and inside a world
>what color is the sidewalk
a color is not the sidewalk
>take the sidewalk
I can't because it is part of a sidewalk that I am inside
(Spoiler - click to show)>check my inventory
I didn't understand 'inventory'. Maybe try: 'what do you see in there?' and 'Where are you?'
>what do i have
a backside, 2 hand, below you, in back of you, left of you, and right of you
>look at backside
Sorry, I'm designed to understand grammatically correct English. Say 'help' for more information.
>look at my backside
a backside is a backside, a physical object, a place, and a thing. It is connected to you.
While I could comment on Baby on Board as a game and a piece of writing, that would be beside the point, because it is a tech demo first and foremost. And as a tech demo, it displays a mix of promising and concerning features.
To start with the concerning, each turn takes anywhere from 5-15 seconds for the engine to process (at least on my computer, which I do admittedly use to cook certain elements of my breakfast, but the old rig still processes a typical parser turn instantaneously for all practical purposes). Perhaps I lack patience, but to me, this is an extremely serious flaw.
On the other hand, anything that can generate a funny response (intended or otherwise) to trying to take a sidewalk is worthwhile in my view. Perplexity's ability to auto-generate outputs based on the dizzying assortment of relations that it models has actually got me pretty excited. Right now those outputs aren't very good, but the potential is there and I'm eager to see where it will eventually lead.
Though, much like the baby at the center of this game, I reckon the engine won't truly shine without a few more years of development!
OK so this is going to be a bit of a review of my thoughts on Perplexity as experienced through this game perhaps more than it's a review of the game. We'll see. Also I considered spoiler tagging some of this, but as I got all of three rooms deep into the game, I don't think I really got far enough to spoil anything.
"I only understand full English sentences like 'take the lamp.'" Hmm. OK, but even "Take the lamp" uses the conventional shortcut of an implied subject. It can't further imply an article and answer to >GET LAMP? That seems a little backward.
Turns out Perplexity will expand some typed commands into what it understands as a full command, but it will take the time to tell you every time. I get that the screenreader is helpful for some players, but I wish I could turn it off specifically because it reads these messages out to me every time, word for word, when I would rather just ignore them and move on, reading at my own pace [unspoiler: it is possible, I just missed it]. People have had this critique of homebrew or startup parsers for a long time and it's not that there's no purpose in them, but: what is the point of developing a parser that is specifically less forgiving than its more popular, conventional contemporaries?
>Who am I
>What am I wearing?
"I don't understand 'wearing'"
>knock on door
(Rephrased as: 'Knock on the door.' I'm just guessing here since I'm not designed for shortcuts, use a full sentence or I can get confused.)
Perplexity rejects the convenience of using an established vocabulary of shortcuts in favor of fully embracing the false promise of the parser while at the same time constantly reminding the player of the limits of its parser. Its parser also seems less advanced than some others, unequipped to understand "it" as a reference as far as I could tell.
>Where is the baby?
"Rosa's House, a living room, a world, and north somewhere."
I'm not really sure how I should understand this answer. I think it means: in the living room of Rosa's house, north of your current location, but it kinda reads like I asked William S. Burroughs during a binge.
>Where are you?
"inside a porch and inside a world"
No, that's where *I* am. I think. Actually, I'm *on* the porch.
"(Rephrased as... [truncated])
You look around the immaculate living room. Near the couch is a coffee table with a note and a diaper bag on it. Tom is sitting on the floor next to idScrewdriver1.
Tom is gone!
There are doors..."
Welp, that's where I quit. I did report this apparent bug and I'm informed that it's fixed if you're curious about having a further go at it than I did. The game needs more polish and although I appreciate Perplexity's accessibility for screen readers and mic use (not my preference), I think that its rejection of conventions works against it more than it helps.
Baby on Boardís blurb foregrounds what sounds like a cool idea Ė its Perplexity engine aims to create parser games playable entirely via a voice interface, which could be a step forward on accessibility for visually-impaired folks and others for whom manual entry of text isnít easy. As Iíve mentioned in other reviews, though, right now my circumstances are such that typing is way easier than listening to audio and/or talking to my computer, meaning I played it entirely in the traditional way. And experienced as a regular piece of parser IF, unfortunately thereís not a lot that feels new or interesting about the game, both because of awkwardness in its implementation and sketchiness in its design.
Starting with the second part first, the premise here does seem fun, and as the parent of a young kid, relatable Ė youíre tasked with getting a baby to daycare (youíre sometimes told itís preschool, but as the tot isnít talking yet thatís probably not right), and given the tendency of small children to cause chaos, I could see the story proceeding in a farcical direction. From the get-go, though, things are sufficiently vague that I wasnít sure what I was getting into. For one thing, you start the game outside the house of someone named Rosa, with her car in the driveway; when you go in she greets you, tells you to do a good job with the drop-off, and leaves. Is the baby ours? Is Rosa our current or former partner? Is this even our house? None of this is explained, and while I guess you donít need that detail, it feels decidedly odd to be missing these basic pieces of context.
I stayed befuddled through the rest of the gameís running time. Rosa appears to be an inventor, so after scooping up the baby (disappointed to learn that I couldnít KISS BABY), his diaper bag, and his favorite binky, I also made my way into her workshop, and found a mysterious tent that, after I futzed around with it some, turned out to be a teleporter that took me back to the driveway. Figuring I had what I needed, I loaded into the car, but when I started it it told me it couldnít leave until I locked up the house (itís some kind of self-driving smartcar).
After dutifully heading back in to close all the doors, I tried again, only to find that the car had somehow gone missing. Guessing this is what the teleporter was supposed to be for, I used the tent again and found the car was now in an empty lot somewhere, with the narration telling me that the thief (what thief?) must have abandoned it. Then I drove to daycare, dropped off the baby, and the game ended. I got a perfect score so I donít think I missed anything, but as a story this is deeply unsatisfying Ė there must have been some excitement with that thief, but I missed all of it Ė and as a puzzle-solving experience, all I had to do was unlock a bunch of doors and figure out how a very simple device worked.
If this had been all there was to Baby on Board, Iíd be chalking it up to a simple, inoffensive test-bed that doesnít make the most of its premise. Unfortunately, technical issue with the game and its parser engine made this whole experience anything but simple. First, the Windows installer took about ten minutes to load, without displaying a status bar or pop-up window indicating that it was still working. Once that hurdle was done, the game started up easily enough, but there was a noticeable lag any time I typed in any input Ė possibly this was because it was reading out the responses to my actions, but I couldnít find a way to mute itself and speed things up.
Most annoyingly, the engine purports to implement a natural language approach that eschews the traditional shortcuts of parser IF. At this point I realized that Perplexity was the same engine used in Kidney Kwest in last yearís IF Comp Ė Iíd struggled with its idiosyncrasies then, and while it felt a tiny bit smoother this time, I continue to think this approach is really awkward and likely to be less accessible for newcomers to IF and those trying to play by voice. For one thing, itís inconsistent about understanding commands where ďtheĒ is omitted Ė sometimes itíll automatically fill that in, but in the tutorial, UNLOCK DOOR simply failed where UNLOCK THE DOOR allowed me to progress. The systemís rules for providing detail about objects are also incredibly mechanical. I usually type X ME as one of the first things I do in a game, to get a sense of who Iím meant to be playing. Hereís what BOB gave me:
"You is a person, a physical object, a place, a thing, and an animal. It also has a hand, a hand, a backside."
Attempts to learn more about Rosa, the baby, or her house and belongings, were similarly cut short by the parserís overliteral way of conveying information. There also appear to be some bugs Ė at one point I tried to leave the tent by typing GET OUT and received an incomprehensible string of letters and punctuation in reply.
Making parser IF easier to get into is Godís work, of course Ė for this particular genre to survive, it needs to get more accessible. And while there are lots of folks whoíve tried to do that within the confines of the existing authoring tools by adding tutorials or other player-friendly shortcuts, thereís definitely room to think about more outside-the-box approaches like voice interfaces and natural language processing. Sadly though, I donít think Baby on Board takes any real steps forward on those fronts, and even qua game itís a pretty bare-bones affair.
Parent protagonists by Kinetic Mouse Car
Games where you play as characters with offspring.